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Gillnet ban doesn't help wild salmon, steelhead in Columbia

Ballot Measure 81, the proposal that would ban gillnets from the lower Columbia River, is the wrong approach and should be rejected by Oregon voters.

The Native Fish Society supports Gov. John Kitzhaber’s approach because it provides an opportunity to move this debate beyond the current battle over which constituency gets to catch salmon — the recreational or commercial fishery — to one that provides some real conservation benefits for naturally spawning wild fish in the Columbia River.

In late July, the Native Fish Society published a statement in opposition to Measure 81. While NFS agrees that the use of gillnets in the mainstem of the Columbia River should be phased out and replaced by more selective fishing methods, we pointed out a number of flaws in Ballot Measure 81.

Those flaws include:

n Nothing in the measure ensures that more wild fish will survive to reach their natal spawning streams. By not including any provision in the measure to assure that more wild fish reach the spawning grounds, any conservation benefits that the measure’s proponents are touting would never materialize.

n Washington’s commercial gillnetters would not be affected and would be able to continue to gillnet salmon from the mainstem of the Columbia River. Without a joint effort by both states, there can be no lasting solution.

n The measure would guarantee an increased number of fish that could be caught per year in the recreational fishery. In years of low salmon and steelhead returns, this number would not be lowered to protect naturally spawning wild fish. This provision points out clearly that the real interest of the proponents of the measure is to take away fish from the commercial fishery and provide those fish to the recreational fishing industry — an allocation battle and not a matter of conservation.

n The measure would make it legal for the commercial industry to use alternative fishing methods that are now banned, but it provides no financial incentive to assist the fleet in converting to other fishing methods.

n The measure ignores the issue of reducing the capacity of the commercial fleet through a voluntary permit buyout program.

Any lasting solution must include the purchase and retirement of permits from willing sellers.

n Tribal interests may view the measure as a way for the recreational industry to catch a larger percentage of hatchery fish in the lower river, reducing the fish available for tribal catch in the upper river.

The Native Fish Society believes that continued improvements must be made in Columbia River fisheries in order to increase the number of wild salmon and steelhead reaching spawning grounds.

A lasting solution must include provisions that specify how many wild fish must safely reach their spawning grounds in order to sustain and recover wild runs.

Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife departments need to establish these spawning goals for each watershed and the species therein. Future commercial and recreational catch limits must be correlated to the size of fish returns and the number of fish needed per river to sustain healthy wild populations.

If we make sure to protect the needs of wild fish first, we’re ensuring the long-term health of our salmon and steelhead runs and the industries that depend on them.

We are hopeful that the Columbia River Fisheries Management Workgroup, the process established in response to Gov. Kitzhaber’s request, is able to find a better solution to the allocation issue and provide the forum for initiating these wild spawner goals.

The Native Fish Society urges the voters of Oregon to reject Ballot Measure 81 and to support the work of the Columbia River Fisheries Management Workgroup and Gov. Kitzhaber in resolving these critical issues.

Mike Moody is executive director of the Native Fish Society. For more information about this conservation organization or its River Steward Program, visit nativefishsociety.org.



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